News release from the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative:
Watershed Initiative Calls for Increased Efforts to Improve Water Quality
Launches $2.5-Million Campaign
(March 18, 2011) – The St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative on Friday launched a $2.5-million, three-year fundraising campaign to step up efforts to improve the water quality of the river and its tributaries.
A report released by the nonprofit organization showed that concentrations of pesticides have been detected at all water sampling sites; concentrations of E.coli frequently exceed human health criterion for recreational uses; and concentrations of phosphorus and nitrates, along with levels of turbidity, regularly exceed standards for protection of aquatic life at most sites.
The initiative has been working for 15 years to improve water quality, with the ultimate goals of making the watershed’s waters safer for fishing, suitable for recreational uses such as swimming, and healthy enough to adequately support a robust wildlife population that includes a number of endangered species, said Sharon Partridge-Hall, program manager of the initiative.
The watershed, she said, has made significant progress in improving water quality largely with the help of government funding, but that support must be augmented by private-sector involvement to ensure that the work will not only continue but grow.
“Continued private financial support of these efforts is crucial as the availability of grant funding becomes increasingly competitive,” Partridge-Hall said. “Without a well-funded, well-focused strategy, water quality will decline and we will imperil one of our most precious resources.”
The St. Joseph River watershed encompasses 694,400 acres of land in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and south-central Michigan. More than 250,000 people in the Fort Wayne area rely on the river for their drinking water, which is treated by Fort Wayne’s City Utilities.
The river is also a significant supplier of water to urban and rural businesses, and an economic development catalyst for business growth and recreational tourism.
“The St. Joseph River is a critical recreational tourism component that helps the region attract businesses and employees,” said Andi Udris, president of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance. “Moreover, taking care of the river ensures that businesses and residents have a stable supply of water for drinking and industrial uses.
“Finally, it is important to look at the river and the surrounding watershed as a centerpiece for future river-based residential and business development. When we look to encourage business development, the river is one of the key resources we mention.”
To ensure that work on restoring and maintaining that vital resource continues, the initiative has launched a three-year “Your Water. Your Future.” campaign that seeks to raise:
[li]$700,000 in cost-share funds to upgrade and replace failing septic systems throughout the region, which discharge fecal matter into the watershed.[/li]
[li]$650,000 to implement best management practices, such as rain gardens in urban areas and buffer strips on agricultural land that minimize soil erosion and prevent harmful substances such as nutrients and pesticides from entering waterways.[/li]
[li]$500,000 to establish an endowment that will help support river improvement projects for generations to come.[/li]
[li]$350,000 to continue and expand the initiative’s weekly water quality testing program involving 24 watershed sites.[/li]
[li]$300,000 for education and outreach programs designed to inform people about the value of the watershed and how they can protect it.[/li]
“We envision a day when people will be able to drink, swim and eat fish from the river and its tributaries without harm,” said Martha Ferguson, vice chair of the watershed board. “To realize that essential goal, we must all become avid stewards of this wonderful gift that has sustained us for centuries.”
About the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative
The nonprofit St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative works to improve water quality in the St. Joseph River and its tributaries spanning 694,400 acres in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. It conducts comprehensive water quality testing and oversees wetland restoration, watershed management planning, land management practices and education programs. Â